Tag Archives: chinook

Waiting For The Chinook

Yesterday morning while I was driving to work the thermometer on my car said -37. That’s minus 37 Celsius, if you were wondering, not that it makes much difference at those temperatures: -40 is -40 whether you speak Canadian or American. Until this cold snap hit, we’d been spoiled with a positively balmy winter, temperatures hovering around freezing for the most part, with some spring-like days. Up until this week, the dangerous winter weather we’d had to deal with involved wind, not frigid temperatures.

As usual, as I was looking at that -37 on the digital readout, my imagination took me back into Alberta’s past, to the early settlers. They didn’t have weathermen warning them that the cold temperatures were coming, and after weeks and weeks of temperate weather the cold snap could have easily snuck up on them. If they weren’t prepared, with food and shelter and warmth for themselves and the animals they relied on, there could be deadly consequences.

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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in history, writing


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The good old days …

It occured to me this afternoon, while I was scaling a four foot drift in the dark to stick my hand in the water trough and make sure it was full and unfrozen, that there are probably easier places to raise horses. Places where you can feed them in daylight all year long, where you don’t have to worry about water heaters, where you could even *gasp* work with them year round!

I’m not really complaining. Even with the whole winter thing, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

But just imagine.

Imagine living here, in the shadow of the Rockies, before there were conveniences like automatic stock waterers with heaters, indoor plumbing, automobiles with block heaters and heated seats, and a Walmart 20 minutes away. I’ve been doing lots of reading about the settlement of the region, the beginnings of the city of Calgary, for New West, my time travel adventure novel. In the early boom days of the fledgling city, hundreds of people lived in tents while they worked until they could build a house.

Tents! In Calgary! Families, with babies and children and grandparents and all their worldly possessions in a small white tent. In winter! In Calgary!

Last week it was 30 below. I don’t think there’s any way you could keep a tent warm in those temperatures. I read one report of a lady who recounted her childhood, some of it spent in a tent on the banks of the Bow. She and her mother would snuggle under the blankets in the bed to stay warm on cold winter days, waiting for her father to come home from work. 

One of the great things about living in southern Alberta are the chinooks. A chinook is a unique weather pattern, where a warm, dry wind blows down from the mountains and can increase the temperature by 20 degrees in the space of a few hours, and make the snow vanish like someone had waved a magic wand. It’s a wonderful respite from an otherwise long and tedious winter in a country that can conceivably have snow any month of the year. All you need is a good chinook, and suddenly, Calgarians are wearing shorts in December!

The thing about a chinook though? It’s a wind. Actually, wind doesn’t seem like a strong enough word. When I was a little girl, we’d go out for recess during a chinook, lift our coats over our heads, and let the wind push us across the playground. Just yesterday, I had to lean at quite an angle in order to walk into the wind (and I am a big person!) while the blowing snow sandblasted my face and made it sting.

Now imagine a tent in a chinook wind.  Warming up is a good thing and all, but I would guess it’s hard to appreciate the balmy temperature while your tent is half way to Saskatchewan.

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Posted by on December 2, 2010 in history, horses, writing


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